RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. It's Thursday morning, which is when we focus on your health. And today we'll report on teens and smoking. This country has generally seen a decline in youth smoking over the past decade, but that trend appears to have stalled. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports on how parents can help kids avoid that first cigarette.
PATTI NEIGHMOND: Kindra Tanner started smoking when she was 13. She says it was due to stress. Her mother had prohibited her from seeing an older boy she really liked. She was angry and upset, and one of her friends offered her a cigarette.
Ms. KINDRA TANNER (High School Student): They make you feel better when you first start. You just feel good. You feel refreshed. It's like drinking water after running all day.
NEIGHMOND: It may sound like quite a leap to compare drinking water to smoking cigarettes. But pediatrician Jonathan Klein says lots of kids he talks to view smoking exactly that way, as a sort of relief. After all, that's what one of the strongest influences in their lives, television, tells them.
Dr. JONATHAN KLEIN (Pediatrician): If you think about the actresses in "Sex and the City", for example, many of them are often using a cigarette as a relaxation device either in the context of being together and talking together or in the context of being, you know, nervous or uptight and reaching for a cigarette and a drink.
NEIGHMOND: Klein has done studies at the University of Rochester on why kids start to smoke. One reason, he says, many are following the lead of their parents. Children of smokers are twice as likely to smoke themselves compared to children of nonsmokers. So don't smoke, says Klein. And if you do smoke, quit. And if you can't, he says, share that with your children.
Dr. KLEIN: Since most smokers have tried to quit and they're still trying to quit can talk about the struggle and about why they don't want their kids to become addicted. When parents talk to their kids honestly about what their hopes and expectations are and what their values are as a family, it has a big impact on what kids decide to try and do.
NEIGHMOND: Klein says teens often underestimate the difficulty of beating a nicotine addiction. While the vast majority of smokers try to quit it at some point in their lives, less than 10 percent are ever successful. And even then, it typically takes 10 or more attempts to quit for good. Klein says, don't just tell kids, show them. You can start by pointing out scenes of real-life smokers.
Dr. KLEIN: If you look at doorways of buildings and you see, you know, addicted people, most of whom we know want to quit and have tried to quit unsuccessfully. And we see adults sort of huddling, you know, outside, waiting to go back in. But that's not that way that the use of cigarettes is shown in the movies and on TV.
NEIGHMOND: And parents can point that out too. Think of your favorite TV show, for example.
Dr. KLEIN: You'll see people holding cigarettes. You'll see people interacting with cigarettes. But you won't really see the puffs of smoke and the clouds of smoke and the smoke trailing up and irritating people in the way that it does in real life.
NEIGHMOND: Parents can help kids notice when TV and movies leave out the real health effects of smoking, like cancer and heart disease. And they can point out the impact of smoking on appearance, which may be more immediately relevant to young people. Things like yellow teeth, bad breath, wrinkles, and not benefiting from their full potential in sports. But even if parents do all this, it's no guarantee your teen won't smoke. Notice if your child seems estranged or particularly rebellious, if they have friends who smoke or if their clothes smell like cigarettes. Kindra's mother, Darlene de la Plata.
Ms. DALENE DE LA PLATA: I would smell it on her clothes, but I just kept thinking maybe that she was hanging out with people who were smoking. And I tried to make excuses, although I think on some level I probably knew.
NEIGHMOND: But when Kindra got suspended from school at 14 for smoking, her mother, a masseuse who owns a health food store in Atlanta, finally had to face it.
Ms. DE LA PLATA: That was a pivotal moment for me that I thought, wow, here I've tried to be an example, and I've tried to - you know, we've always done natural healing, natural medicine. We don't buy sodas. We don't buy junk food. We don't do any of that stuff. And this was a huge deal for me.
NEIGHMOND: De la Plata tried to get her daughter to quit. And eventually Kindra did. But it took months. Dr. Jonathan Klein says some studies suggest that after smoking just a few cigarettes, the brain actually remodels itself and makes new nicotine receptors.
Dr. KLEIN: I think the most important thing that parents can do is to really be clear with their children about their expectations for never even experimenting, never trying a cigarette.
NEIGHMOND: Nearly all adults who smoke started before age 18, and one-third had their first cigarette before the age of 14. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
INSKEEP: And that's "Your Health" for this Thursday morning. You can get more tips to prevent teenage smoking and watch a video that lays out all the harmful ingredients in cigarettes by going to npr.org.
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